Who is the best running QB in NFL history?

Fran Tarkenton photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

The mobile quarterback is where it’s at in today’s NFL. Teams want a quarterback who can move, who can escape, who can extend a play with his legs. Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Carson Wentz, DeShaun Watson – if you can move, you can succeed.

There’s a strong history of mobile quarterbacks in NFL annals. And that’s this week’s Talk of Fame Network poll question – who’s the best running quarterback in NFL history. Lots of good options:

Randall Cunningham. Cunningham ranks second all-time in career rushing yards by a quarterback with 4,928 in 775 carries with 35 touchdowns. He rushed for 940 of those yards in 1990 for the third-best single-season by an NFL quarterback, averaging an NFL-leading 8.0 yards per carry that year. He’s had three career 100-yard games, topped by his 124 against New England in 1990.

Bobby Douglass. In terms of running ability, Douglass was Vince Young before Vince Young. He played 10 years in the NFL but was the primary starter in only two of those seasons. At 6-4, 225, Douglass was jumbo for his position in the 1970s. Defenses didn’t fear Douglass in the pocket — he was only a 43 percent career passer with almost twice as many interceptions (64) as touchdowns (36). But when he escaped the pocket — look out. Douglass had the second best rushing season by a quarterback in NFL history with 968 yards and eight touchdowns in 1972. His 6.9-yard average led the league. He had three 100-yard rushing games in his career, including 127 on 14 carries versus the Raiders in 1972, and rushed for 22 career touchdowns.

Colin Kaepernick. Holds the NFL single-game record for rushing yards by an NFL quarterback with 181 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns in a 2012 playoff victory against the Packers. That’s an average of 11.3 yards per carry. Kaepernick also has the fourth best rushing game by an NFL quarterback in history with 151 yards on seven carries with a touchdown in 2014 against the San Diego Chargers. That’s an average of 21.6 per carry.

Cam Newton. No one deposits the ball in the end zone with his legs like Newton – no quarterbacks, anyway. Newton rushed for 14 touchdowns in a single season (2011) and 54 touchdowns in his career. Both are records for the quarterback position. Newton also had a 10-touchdown season rushing in 2015. He has three career 100-yard games, topped by a 116-yard effort against Atlanta in 2012.

Fran Tarkenton. The original scrambler, Tarkenton was running for his life with the first-year expansion Minnesota Vikings in 1961. A Hall of Fame quarterback, Tarkenton retired as the NFL’s all-time leading passer (47,003) and quarterback rusher (3,674). He has since slipped to 11th in passing and fourth in rushing.

Michael Vick. The only quarterback ever to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. Vick rushed for 1,039 yards for the Atlanta Falcons in 2006. Vick is the all-time leader among NFL quarterbacks in career rushing yards with 6,109 yards in 873 carries for a record 7.0 yards per carry. Vick has the second- and third-best rushing games by a quarterback in NFL history – 173 yards against Minnesota in 2002 and 161 against New Orleans in 2006. He holds the position record with 10 100-yard rushing games.

Steve Young. Ranks third all-time among quarterback rushers with 4,239 yards in 722 carries with a runnerup 43 touchdowns at his position. Young rushed for a career-best 537 yards and four touchdowns in 1992 on his way to NFL MVP honors.

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  1. Eugene Dunn
    September 5, 2018

    Honorable mention: Roger Staubach

  2. brian wolf
    September 5, 2018

    The most talented runner was Vick, though his passing might have suffered. Cunningham was talented too but his Clydesdale strides and leaping led to injuries.

    Tarkenton was the most intelligent runner, because he was always trying to throw or hit the open man, which is why he became the all time leading thrower. Wilson runs with that same intelligence, though his runs are also by design.

    Steve Young had the best combination of running and passing talent and really loved to run through defences, though like Staubach, concussions caught up with him. Bradshaw was a fullback playing QB…No one wanted to tackle him when he ran.

    Cam Newton is a mystery to me; he is a huge running QB and can be very effective, but then there are times he sits in the pocket like a statue taking too many hits. Why he didnt run more with the ball in the Super Bowl is a question everyone has been trying to figure out, especially bettors on the game. Maybe he wanted to prove on the biggest stage he could stand and deliver the football but instead he allowed Denvers pass rush to bury him, without ever showing his power running ability.

    NFL History fans also need to know about Tobin Rote, who with Bobby Lane led Detroit to its last league Championship in 1957. He could really run with the ball and also led the Chargers to an AFL Championship in 1963.

    Otto Graham was like Staubach, Wilson, Tarkenton, LeBaron and Flutie, he could run or scramble a defensive line ragged and then throw right through you. Very calculating and underrated as a runner.

  3. brian wolf
    September 5, 2018

    Forgot to mention McNabb and McNair as well…McNabb could run well but really tried to throw first.
    McNair was a great power running QB like Bradshaw, Douglas and Newton. Before injuries caught up with him, Steve Grogan of the Patriots could run to.

    I know I can ramble but love discussing NFL History. Todays game doesnt seem the same to me. Whether Vegas, TV or rule changes, its just different.

    Now there needs to be new discussions on the Greatest Running Back of all time because I will debate anytime, anyday on Walter Payton with anyone haha

  4. Casey
    September 5, 2018

    Even though I think Vick is the best ever. If you are going to list Kaepernick I feel like you should also list McNair, McNabb, Russell Wilson, & Kordell Stewart

    • Rick Gosselin
      September 6, 2018

      Kaepernick has two of the Top 4 rushing games by a QB in NFL history. That’s why he’s on the list. Michael Vick has the other two top games in the Top 4.

  5. bachslunch
    September 5, 2018

    Bobby Douglass and Kordell Stewart would be honorable mentions.

  6. Justin
    September 7, 2018

    John Elway ran a lot when he was younger. He is the first QB that I remember defenses using a spy to stop. He would be my pick as the best mobile QB. However, given the list provided, I’d say Young. He is a HOFer. He was the best combination of both arm and legs. And he has the signature run against Minnesota, one of the best moments in my NFL tv-watching life.

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